Skip to main content

Everything that disappears in the Bermuda Triangle… Well, this is where they end up.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
(2013)

Thor Freudenthal’s half-hearted sequel to Chris Columbus’ 2010 sub-Harry Potter Young Adult adaptation reeks of a budget-strapped follow-up. Movies that don’t feel the urge to hit the two-hour finish line are fine by me, but when the quest for Golden Fleece is a one-stop shop it’s clear something has gone seriously awry somewhere. While there are a couple of sprightly elders livening up the supporting roles, Sea of Monsters mostly fails to pass muster, even stood next to its slight but likeable predecessor.


Reputedly costing less than The Lightning Thief, the bean counters obviously decided it made financial sense based on that movie’s post-theatrical earnings. That is, it got made by the skin of its teeth. Everyone is looking for the next Potter, then the next Twilight and now the next Hunger Games. Percy Jackson takes its cues of destiny’s child from Potter, along with the assorted sidekicks/ mentor types, but it also hearkens to Chronicles of Narnia in its overt references to religion/mythology (Christianity, the Greek pantheon). Narnia also scraped together a (second) sequel based on long-term maths rather than instant benefits after Prince Caspian floundered.


So Sea of Monsters has to make do with a director of a mid-range comedies (Hotel for Dogs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and the loss of the entirety of the adult cast of Lightning Thief (so no Brosnan, Bean, McKidd. Thurman, Dawson or Coogan). Anthony Head fills in comfortably for Brosnan as Chiron, a Rupert Giles-type professor with four hooves. Stanley Tucci makes one of his dazzling cameos as Mr D (did they think calling him Dionysus would be too potent a signifier of debauchery?), perpetually attempting to fill a glass of fine wine only for it to transform to water before he is able to drink a drop (at Zeus’ decree). He also has a winningly disreputable taste for stealing ideas and palming them off as his own. Nathan Fillion cameos as Hermes, the father of the not-that-threatening-really returning bad teen Luke (Jake Abel, who gets the occasional decent line delivery, ”What are you doing? Don’t walk on my roof!” but lacks a sense of genuine menace). Fillion, still eating all the pies, is content to dine out on the decade old memory of Firefly (Hercules Busts Heads; “The best TV show ever, so, of course, cancelled”).


The adult support aside, it’s Brandon T Jackson as satyr Grover who yet again steals the show (it’s questionable why no one comments on satyrs being naked from the waist down, centaurs too; is it only because there’s a lot of hair concealing their bits?). When he’s not off screen and captured, that is. He disappears for a long period, but instantly reaps the laughs when he resurfaces disguised as a lady Cyclops. Logan Lerman has an open-faced guilelessness that could prove irritating if he wasn’t also a decent actor. He isn’t especially well-served by Percy, a strictly predictable role of good-natured heroism fuelled by a ready supply of platitudes. Not helping matters is the introduction of his sub-Ted “Theodore” Logan half-brother, Tyson (Douglas Smith); he’s a dozy but brave dread-head Cyclops. Alexandra Daddio returns as Annabeth (the Hermione role), Athena’s daughter) while Leven Rambin is Clarisse, a headstrong and haughty half-daughter of Ares. These bastard offspring are rendered quite innocuous by the dedicatedly unremarkable storytelling.


Any given high point of Greek mythology is ironed into anodyne shape, complete with strange connections between given legends presumably decided by pulling names out of a hat. Luke plans to resurrect the Titan Kronos, father of Zeus (a victim of mass patricide, although to be fair he did have a habit of eating his own brood). His remains just happen to reside in a casket that bears a strong resemblance to Raiders’ ark (Titan himself is more you standard issue demonic horned god type, when he is mustered). To complete this task Luke requires the Golden Fleece, a rather non-descript piece of rug here but one with the handy power to heal pretty much anything and everything.  In turn, Percy requires it to save the tree that protects Camp Half-Blood (there’s a first draft site name if ever there was one).


The Fleece is guarded over by Polyphemus the Cyclops, who for some reason now lives on Circe’s island. In the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. This mish-mash might have been all right if used to blend elements into an inventive melange, but the result is consistently limp. On the plus side there’s a whacky car journey with the Graeae that is at least lively. It takes the one-eyed sisters and sticks them in a demonic taxicab that could be an outtake from Bill Murray’s Scrooged. The insides of Charybdis seem to have been half-inspired by Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen, but such inventiveness is few and far between.


It’s nice to see a hippocampus, but why is it even necessary when Percy is travelling across water… which he has command over? The special effects aren’t so special either, especially for a movie that reportedly wasn’t that cheap, as if all designers just couldn’t summon any enthusiasm. And that’s Sea of Monsters all over. It’s okay, and there’s at least more life than in those dismayingly charmless Sam Worthington Perseus flicks, but its still quite sad to see such rich material wasted so profusely.


Sea of Monsters didn’t do that much less business than the first so, with a fourth Narnia tentatively planned, The Titan’s Curse may well follow. But if this series does, just about, continue to make sense financially, at some point the producers will be forced to recast, drastically reduce the budgets (they may well end up as straight-to-DVD fare), or even reboot it in a TV incarnation. To realistically ride the crest of the Potter wave Percy needed to become a movie series almost as soon as its 2005 novel debut, not five years later. As I understand it, the Jackson faithful aren’t that keen on the way the makers keep messing with the books, giving the movies even less reason to be. This is a series where it’s left to the supporting characters maintain the interest and where the myths are so neutered as to be virtually unrecognisable. Also, the title’s misleading. I could only count one (monster).


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.

We’re going to find that creature they call the Yeti.

The Abominable Snowman (1957)
The Abominable Snowman follows the first two Quatermass serials as the third Hammer adaptation of a Nigel Kneale BBC work. As with those films, Val Guest takes the directorial reins, to mixed results. Hammer staple Peter Cushing repeats his role from The Creature (the title of the original teleplay). The result is worthy in sentiment but unexceptional in dramatic heft. Guest fails to balance Kneale’s idea of essentially sympathetic creatures with the disintegration of the group bent on finding them.

Nevertheless, Kneale’s premise still stands out. The idea that the Yeti is an essentially shy, peaceful, cryptozoological beastie is now commonplace, but Kneale adds a further twist by suggesting that they are a distinct and in some respects more advance parallel branch in the evolution of hominids (the more extravagant notion that they are in some way extra-dimensional is absent, but with the powers thy sport here wouldn’t be such a leap). Cushing’s Rollason is…